Birds-Foot Trefoil, which we called ‘eggs and bacon’ because of the variation in colour from deep yellow to orange, gets its name from the shape of its seed-pods, which also give it its less pleasant common name of Grannie’s Toenails in some areas. Common in grasslands, waste ground, seashores and rocky areas, this low growing plant is a brilliant source of nectar for insects, and a food source for the caterpillars of the beautiful Common Blue butterfly. To Victorians, deeply into the symbolism of flowers it represented revenge. Conditions: very hot, dry spell continues. Temperature: Max 25 Min 10 C.
Meadow Pipits are one of the most widespread birds in Britain and Ireland, found on seashores, heaths, meadows and uplands, though their actual numbers have plummeted by 40%. Meadow Pipits have many predators and this one looked round nervously, as they often do, from its perch, as it preened. They eat moths, insects and spiders and can be confused with the larger, less streaky-chested Skylark,
soaring up and singing their (very different, piping) song before parachuting back down to ground or perch. The colour of their back varies from olive green, through buff to grey. A look at a video on the BTO site will help you separate them out from Skylarks and Rock Pipits. Conditions: Very hot, still sunny day. Temperature: Max 27 Min 13 C
Yellowhammers: Returning from a great break in Ireland, where we never got wet in 16 days (is this some sort of record?), I’m restarting the blog with these gorgeous Yellowhammers, doing what they classically do- singing from the top of a low bush, typically a Gorse bush as you can see. We heard the brightly coloured male singing its rhythmic song- “a little bit of bread and no cheese”, while the camouflaged female sat nearby in a small tree (see photo). They were unusually numerous on an RSPB site in Dumfries, having sadly declined in many areas, as scrubland is replaced by intensive farming or development. Conditions: Cloud and sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 20, Min 11 C.
The decline in Kestrels in many parts of the Uk is worrying but on our recent trip to the North East they were visible in their previous numbers. Such a delight, they are not usually persecuted as they take small rats, mice and voles, which are regarded by farmers as pests. In medieval falconry they were flown by knaves as they were
regarded as lower status than Peregrines etc. They can hover in a strong winds, keeping their heads completely still, like this one by St Mary’s lighthouse. Conditions: Another dull, wet day. Temperature: Max 8 Min 5c.
Goldeneye are beautiful, diving ducks that overwinter in the UK. You may see them at Old Moor; we recently watched them on the Northumberland sea and at Druridge Bay, a bit distant so I have drawn a male to add to the photo’s
. Males have iridescent heads- studies suggest iridescence is related to testosterone levels, which may explain why heads look blacker in winter. The white cheek patch helps identification. Goldeneye first nested in Scotland in 1970– nest-boxes in trees near lakes has increased the small number of breeding to 200 pairs. Conditions: Cold with some sun. Temperature: Max 4 Min -2C.
Watching waders like these Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Dunlin, along the winter shore is such a treat. Not only do they have different length bills so that they don’t compete for food, they have many sensitive nerve endings at the end of their bills, allowing them to detect the pressure-waves from prey as they rapidly ‘stitch’ the mud and sand, in a search for small invertebrates (see photo’s)- a bit like echo location in bats. Conditions: Sunny spells replaced by dull cloud and drizzle. Temperature: Max 9- Min 5C.
Oyster Catchers are our most easily seen and identified waders– 45% of the European population overwinters on our coasts, and it was great to see them feeding, and hear their evocative peeping calls, in Northumberland yesterday. Their strong, long bills enable them to probe deep into sand, and to break open Mussels and Cockles. Increasingly breeding inland, they also feast on worms in summer. Conditions: Glorious sun and strong westerly breezes. Temperature: Max 7- Min 0C.